Today the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League will announce its final sanctions against Rouyn-Noranda center Patrice Cormier for his nauseating attack on Mikael Tam of the Quebec Remparts on January 17. The brutality hospitalized Tam with brain trauma and destroyed teeth, and Cormier has been suspended ever since. Quebec provincial police are appropriately investigating the attack.
Cormer. a 2008 second-round selection of the New Jersey Devils, is said to “play with an edge,” but what he did to Tam, lining up his opponent in most premeditated fashion, his elbow extended like a battering ram, is no “edginess.” It’s the act of an outlaw, and one who has little other redeeming quality. Hockey as we know it can survive without players like Patrice Cormier in it; I’m not sure it can however with them.
To be clear: we are quite lucky Tam is not dead. What if Cormier had been skating at full speed when he attacked? And if acts of brutality like Cormier’s continue to be met with shocking status quo sentiments like those of Devils’ GM Lou Lamoriello, such violence will continue and even worse — perhaps even fatal — results will follow. Lamoriello is very much part of hockey’s problem here. His indifference to this malignancy on our sport is another form of violence against it.
Hockey I think has at last arrived at a moment where extreme violence can no longer be excused away as a hazard of the trade, or a teaching moment, for we aren’t taking the lessons very well.
I thought Greg Wyshynski hit the framing chord just right in the lead of his discussion of this incident last week:
“It happens during every flashpoint moment of violence in hockey: Shock at the actions, concern for the injured, anger — and some character witness sympathy from peers — aimed at the aggressor, anticipation of a banishment and then either celebration or repudiation of a governing body’s determined punishment for the crime. Rinse and repeat.”
If you’re one of the few who follow the sport who hasn’t seen the attack, there are three brief replays of it in this TSN video. Be advised that the aftermath of Cormier’s crime, which leaves Tam convulsing on the ice, is especially difficult to watch.
We can’t treat Cormier’s crime — against hockey, a fellow hockey player, and civil society — like any other act of senseless violence in our sport. Cormier’s thuggery occurs fairly hard on the heels of another CHL act of neaderthalism: last week the Ontario Hockey League announced a 20-game suspension for Zach Kassian, who drove the head of Windsor’s Matt Kennedy into the boards.
Cormier is a repeat filthy aggressor: he sullies his sport with regularity, embarrassing it in the league he plays and while wearing the sweater of his country. Maybe he’s extreme acting on an ethos hockey has winked and nodded at for 50 or 70 years. Maybe he’s a genuinely unstable individual. It matters not. Hockey must now act to reign in a level of violence that is skating horrifically close to the lethal.
The NHL, predictably, shied away from showing leadership in this moment. Its silence on Cormier is deafening. All of its sanctimony about care for the health of its players must be tempered when juxtaposed by its silence in this matter; after all, the CHL is its lead development pipeline. So we await the sanctions from Q League commissioner Gilles Corteau and hope that leadership arrives from below.
Rigorous infractions reform must be the one good that comes out of this incident. Men who govern our game but who do not represent the old way of doing things (read, Lamoriello) must convene a summit and from it issue a decree against aggressor acts targeting players’ heads that is abided by all levels of development hockey. There is a reason that elbowing is a penalty while shouldering is not. The elbow is a sharp and blunt weapon, not unlike a stick, that can fairly impale players. Its use is devastating when directed at rib cages, but at heads it can be lethal, and it simply must not be tolerated.
Going forward, there needs to be a rigorous reorientation over players’ use of elbows, or we simply cannot take anything hockey says about concern for head injuries seriously. Elbowing needs to be a 5-minute major in general; its use against heads a first-instance act prescriptive of lengthy suspension. A second, banishment.
Hockey can have beautiful violence. But it cannot have Patrice Comier’s kind.